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World Cup winner Pierre Littbarski tells Gareth Southgate what to do with Phil Foden – and reveals the four players he thinks would decide a potential final between England and Germany at Euro 2024

It’s no wonder that Pierre Littbarski was one of the most daring and skilled dribblers of the 1980s, as if he played with tape on his boots. His talent shone after a childhood in the shadow of the Berlin Wall, and the stones that divided the city provided the basis for a career that included three World Cup finals.

‘I played on Potsdamer Platz, on the west side,’ he begins, as we sit under the Cologne sun. ‘We developed a technical game, where your ball can only bounce once and you play it against The Wall. For people who don’t live in Berlin, that sounds crazy. The Wall was also our target and we would shoot against it. My coach sent me to play there, and that’s where I learned my technical skills.’

What happened when the ball went over?

‘Yes, that was a big problem! Especially if you are not that rich, you protect your ball. You take him to bed, to school, everywhere. If the ball went over it, it never came back! So your control had to be good. It certainly helped me!’

Littbarski won the World Cup in 1990, after losing in 1982 and 1986. The victory in Italy 90 was the last for West Germany, a year after the Wall fell.

Pierre Littbarski meets Mail Sport to reflect on his 1990 World Cup victory with West Germany – and give his views on England

Pierre Littbarski speaks to Mail Sport about his 1990 World Cup victory with West Germany – and gives his views on England

Pictured with Craig Hope, Littbarski admits Gareth Southgate has a 'very difficult' job

Pictured with Craig Hope, Littbarski admits Gareth Southgate has a 'very difficult' job

Littbarski, pictured with Craig Hope, admits Gareth Southgate has a ‘very difficult’ job

‘For me that night in 1989 was a special moment, even though I wasn’t there because I was away with the national team. I was born in 1960 and the Wall was built in 1961. It was always there. I traveled to East Berlin a lot because we had family there.

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“But even now it’s a strange feeling to go to the east side, to the Brandenburg Gate or when I see Checkpoint Charlie. There is still a feeling inside, like a boy, one of excitement.”

Today’s Germany is not as united as many had hoped 35 years ago. That is why the success of the host country here at the European Championships is seen as an opportunity to strengthen national morale. Littbarski, an utterly charming soul who wears his Germany shirt with ‘Musiala 14’ on the back, believes there is a good vibe spreading through the country.

“It’s very different from the World Cup two years ago,” he says. ‘I watch the matches at holiday park events and the mood is so good.

‘I also see a difference in the players’ minds. They enjoy playing for Germany! Before, there was a lot of pressure, they didn’t perform so well. Against Switzerland (1-1 draw) they had a problem, but when you watch them, you think: ‘Okay, this is the right way to play football’.’

For Littbarski, the dream final would be Germany versus England in his home city. First, the Germans have to beat Denmark in the last 16.

The former Cologne striker also sees similarities between the old rivals, especially in the areas of focus.

“I love Phil Foden,” says Littbarski, an authority on low-centre-of-gravity dribblers. “He’s a player who can read situations very quickly. He’s one of my favourite dribblers in the world.

He likes Phil Foden and would choose him over Bukayo Saka on the right wing

He likes Phil Foden and would choose him over Bukayo Saka on the right wing

He likes Phil Foden and would prefer him over Bukayo Saka on the right wing

‘But I would prefer to see him on the right side instead of Bukayo Saka. Because as far as I’m concerned, he doesn’t get enough of the decisive positions where he plays for Manchester City. They should give him more freedom.

‘The accommodation of the attacking four (Foden, Saka, Harry Kane and Jude Bellingham) is very difficult for Gareth Southgate. Maybe sometimes you don’t play the four best players. Maybe it should be the four players who fit best. The same goes for Germany. Sometimes I feel like Jamal Musiala and Florian Wirtz are in the same places, like England with Bellingham and Foden.’

What would happen if they met in the final?

“First of all, the English press will of course talk about the penalty shootout,” says Littbarski, and he’s right.

“But they are very close, so it’s all about the superstars. We have two players who can make the difference, Wirtz and Musiala. England have Kane and Bellingham. These four players will decide the match. It would be the perfect finale. There are so many stories surrounding this game, so much history. We have enormous respect for the England team.”

Littbarski was part of the West German team when they last hosted the European Championships in 1988. With a team consisting of Lothar Matthäus, Jurgen Klinsmann and Rudi Voller, they were the big favorites to win the tournament, but they lost by 2 -1 against the eventual champions Netherlands in the semi-finals.

‘They beat us before the game,’ Littbarski reveals. ‘We came onto the pitch and knew each other very well from our clubs. We went to the Dutch players to shake hands. They just refused and turned the other way. We were already thinking: “What happened here?”. That was because coach Rinus Michels developed a strategy with the mind games. They beat us before the game, but you have to admit they had a very good team.’

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Two years later, after taking revenge on the Netherlands in the last 16, West Germany met Argentina in the World Cup final in Rome, with Littbarski playing the full 90 minutes of a 1-0 victory.

He thinks Harry Kane, Jude Bellingham, Musiala and Wirtz will 'decide the match'

He thinks Harry Kane, Jude Bellingham, Musiala and Wirtz 'will decide the game'

He thinks Harry Kane, Jude Bellingham, Musiala and Wirtz ‘will decide the game’

‘In the 1982 final I was very nervous (3-1 defeat to Italy). I was young, I couldn’t sleep before the match. In 1986 (3-2 defeat to Argentina) I got injured before the tournament and didn’t play so well. In 1990, the experience helped me a lot. I expected us to win. We had excellent individuals, but we also worked as a team. I knew we would win that final.

‘I grew up with Matthaus and Voller. Matthaus was versatile – he was fast, he could defend, he could score. Voller is three days older than me and we played Under-21. I knew at any moment where he was going and where I could send the ball. It was great fun growing up with those players and so special to win the World Cup with them.’

Where does Littbarski keep his winner’s medal?

“Good question, I’m looking for it! I think one of my ex-wives has it! The medal is nice, but the memories are better.”




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